The last few years have seen a variety of political comebacks, and many politicians will be hoping for more. In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn began the election campaign at minus 40% net approval, but by the end of the campaign had leaped up to minus one per cent, giving Theresa May a bloody nose and a lost majority.
In Ireland, Leo Varadkar’s satisfaction rating in May 2019 was 36%, but has recently risen to 51%. In France, President Macron saw his popularity plummet with the Gilets Jaunes protests over higher taxes, but rowing back on reform, coupled with a huge listening exercise, saw him recover, with his ratings returning to 36% satisfied in 2019, far ahead of those recorded by Mr Hollande during his later period as President.
Britain’s new Prime Minister had his own Lazarus moment in the autumn. In July, he was the first occupant of Number 10 to start their tenure with satisfaction ratings in the red. When he took office, Boris Johnson registered a first net satisfaction rating of -7,68 which then fell even further to -18 in September.69 Never, since Ipsos MORI started tracking public satisfaction with leaders in the days of Margaret Thatcher, had a PM begun their premiership with more people dissatisfied with their performance than those satisfied.
However, what a difference a month made. By October, the Prime Minister’s satisfaction rating had rocketed into the black, posting a figure of +2.70 Boris Johnson therefore went into the election campaign as the only leader of the four main political parties for people to be more satisfied with their performance than not, even if it was pretty weak compared to some of his predecessors.
By contrast, at the start of the 2019 campaign, Jeremy Corbyn’s net satisfaction rating had fallen to a new low of -60.71 Only 15% were satisfied with the job he was doing and more than three in four (75%) were dissatisfied. Never has a leader of the two main UK parties had such a low net satisfaction rating, plummeting below even Michael Foot’s nadir.72
At the time of going to press, Jeremy Corbyn has only marginally improved his position. Maybe you can’t be Lazarus twice?
The reader will be able to make their own assessment as to how strong a comeback the Labour leader will be able to make this time around.
Despite his unpopularity in Britain and Europe, one person who has done rather better than these leaders is Donald Trump. As discussed earlier in Cliff’s article (on page 78), the US President’s approval rating has hovered around 40% for the last two and a half years, which suggests he has – barring impeachment and other upheavals – a good chance of re-election.73 He is now achieving the same type of rating President Obama achieved at this point in his first presidency.
So, while it can be easy to write off our political leaders, no matter how unlikely, comebacks can happen – and fast.